Join CSTE   |   Career Center   |   Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In
CSTE Features
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   

 

View all (135) posts »
 

Charting an Epidemic, Confronting an Epidemic

Posted By Sara Ramey, Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Untitled Document
The governor of Vermont got a lot of attention when he dedicated his entire State of the State address to one topic: heroin. That attention was highly warranted because opioid abuse, prescription and non-prescription alike, is a major epidemic in this country, and epidemiologists are charting this epidemic and its consequences in many ways.

Prescription monitoring programs seek patterns consistent with “doctor shopping”, forgery and other diversion. Substance abuse programs track drug seizures and treatment admissions to follow patterns of abuse. Epidemiology programs track newly diagnosed cases of hepatitis C. Overdoses and overdose deaths are tracked in emergency departments and through vital records. All of these important surveillance systems track the underlying problem (addiction and substance abuse) and the consequences (overdose, infection, interaction with the criminal justice system). But, beyond counting, the epidemiologist must also be an advocate for using the data for action.
In Massachusetts, between 1990 and 2010, drug overdose deaths tripled, exceeding motor vehicle related death rate in 2000, and doubling it by 2010. These observations led to resources for the technical and programmatic enhancement of the prescription monitoring program and, in 2007, the initiation of a naloxone (Narcan®) program to train first responders, public safety officials and family members to administer the opiate receptor antagonist naloxone by nasal spray to potential overdoses. The program has resulted in the reversal of over 2,000 overdoses, so far, and an instance where drug users followed a police car to alert them so that they could reverse an overdoses. The philosophy is that one has to survive to kick the habit. Driven by the data, federal and state funding has also gone to community prevention programs and multi-community Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaboratives.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has observed increasing numbers of reported cases of hepatitis C virus infection in people between the ages of 15 and 25; the rate almost doubling between 2002 and 2012, while newly diagnosed cases went down in other age groups. These 15-25 year-olds almost certainly acquired their infection well within the previous 10 years. While much attention has been appropriately directed toward the hepatitis C epidemic in the “baby boomer” generation, hepatitis C in adolescents and young adults represents a new epidemic wave of hepatitis C. All indications are that these infections were acquired through injection drug use. Interviews are difficult to obtain, but the most common story is prescription opioid use leading to injection of prescription opioids and heroin. Heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs and all too available. Because of the difficulty in getting enough data from interviews to explore the networks of transmission of hepatitis C among adolescents and young adults, we are exploring sequencing of hepatitis C viruses that come to our public health laboratory to try to use the virus RNA sequences to construct networks. There hasn’t been much HIV co-infection yet, but that may be just a matter of time before that virus is introduced into these networks.
While the hepatitis C data are overwhelming, both in their implications for the future and the sheer number of new reports (in Massachusetts, now one to two thousand positive laboratory reports for hepatitis C in the age group each year), an approach to this massive epidemic is not easily identified. Of course, there should be every and all attempts to prevent and treat addiction. But what can be done in the meantime? As epidemiologists and public health professionals, we cannot just watch this tsunami of hepatitis C cases without actively encouraging the use of data to inform interventions, be they harm reduction approaches directed at safer injection or using observational data and network analysis to identify means of getting prevention and treatment messages to those at risk and infected.
Alfred DeMaria, MD
State Epidemiologist
Massachusetts Department of Health

Tags:  infectious disease  member spotlight  substance abuse  surveillance 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)
 
Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal